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Despite Big Advantages, Emanuel Forced To Face Chicago Runoff


Chicago will have a runoff election for mayor for the first time in history. This week, the incumbent, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, won more than 45 percent of the vote. But that's short of the 50 percent plus one that he needed. While Jesus G. Garcia, known as Chuy, who's a county commissioner, won more than 33 percent to force the runoff. It will be held April 7. We turn now to Carol Marin, who's political editor for WMAQ TV, a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times and a presence on Channel 11's "Chicago Tonight." Carol, thanks so much for being with us.

CAROL MARIN: My pleasure, Scott.

SIMON: So Mayor Emanuel raised an awful lot of money. Chicago's own president of the United States came to campaign for him just before voting. How did he fall short?

MARIN: Part of it was that in four years, there are some voters who believe he was tone deaf, too arrogant, too bossy, not collaborative. But you're right - he raised $30 million over the last four years. The president came in and gave him what everyone called a bro hug, and all of the newspapers endorsed him, including The Chicago Defender...

SIMON: Yeah.

MARIN: ...The African-American newspaper. And none of it worked.

SIMON: Only 34 percent of the voters went to the polls this week. Isn't that usually the kind of election in which a well-financed campaign with a good ground campaign is supposed to win?

MARIN: That's the way it's been rigged for years. For years, the reason Chicago had a municipal election - not a primary - and put it in February when people were too frozen to leave their homes was to guarantee the installation - or reinstallation - of the incumbent. So this goes against all of that conventional wisdom.

SIMON: Still, Mayor Emanuel just has to get another five percent of the vote. Does this runoff on April 7 look like a real election now?

MARIN: Yes, it does. And the reason it does is that it's not the only activity and sort of fire burning in the city. We have a record number of runoffs. As you know, we have 50 aldermen. Nineteen of them didn't make it directly into a victory. They are going to runoffs, and they are the insurgents. They are the so-called progressives. They're the people that Emanuel's forces formed a PAC to try to reduce the numbers of. And so there's a lot of activity in wards, and it all speaks to this overall issue of voter discontent.

SIMON: Who is Chuy Garcia, and does he have to show that he's not just a protest candidate now?

MARIN: He has been around for a long time. He was a state senator. He was a city council alderman. He is now a Cook County commissioner. Was he widely known all the way across Chicago? No, he has not been. But he is a solid and serious individual, who's been in government for a long time. He was not the first choice. The first choice to run against Rahm Emanuel was the head of the Chicago teachers' union...

SIMON: Yeah, Karen Lewis.

MARIN: ...Karen Lewis, who is charismatic, African-American and has been at war with Emanuel from the beginning. But she developed a brain tumor. And the person who became the anointed one was Chuy Garcia.

SIMON: Carol, Rahm Emanuel, of course, is President Obama's chief of staff, but he really began his political career - national political career - working for Bill and Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton is also a Chicagoan who might run for president. Do you see national implications for a Clinton candidacy in this election?

MARIN: Not necessarily, but what I do see is a question of whether she will come and march in the St. Patrick's Day Parade in March.

SIMON: Oh, yeah.

MARIN: Remember, Rahm Emanuel was the guy who hid under the desk - his own words - when it was a question of whom would he align himself with, his old friend Hillary or his old friend Barack? Hiding under the desk back then may be reciprocated with Hillary Clinton deciding that she doesn't want to march in a St. Patrick's Day Parade where she is going to alienate voters that she needs if she marches beside Rahm Emanuel.

SIMON: Carol Marin in Chicago. Thanks so much for being with us.

MARIN: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.